Governing Disasters
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Governing Disasters

The Challenges of Emergency Risk Regulation

Edited by Alberto Alemanno

This is the first volume that addresses the complexities of the volcanic ash cloud that overshadowed Europe in April 2011, but has subsequently struck again in Australia, Chile and Europe. It does so from a multidisciplinary perspective, drawing upon research from economics, law, sociology and other fields, as well as volcanology and leading expertise in jet engineering. Whilst our knowledge base is wide-ranging, there is a common focus on the practical lessons of the ash cloud crisis both for subsequent eruptions and for emergency risk regulation more generally.
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Chapter 9: Normative Uncertainty and Ethics in Emergency Risk Regulation

A.M. Viens


A.M. Viens Risks are a pervasive and inescapable aspect of modern society. Indeed, risks are endemic to our daily lives, with particular sources and levels of risk contributing to what constitutes normalcy for most individuals and populations. The significant risk of harm, loss or burden associated with emergencies is different from what we typically experience in times of normalcy and presents pressing challenges to risk regulation. The significant risk of harm, loss or burden is, however, only one feature of emergency. There are numerous events or activities that have significant risks associated with them to which we do not justifiably apply the label of ‘emergency’. It would be a mistake to differentiate times of normalcy and emergency on the basis of the magnitude or seriousness of risk alone. In this chapter, I focus on another feature of emergency: normative uncertainty.1 It is a feature of emergency that risk regulation often, if not exclusively, neglects to take into account. This neglect can have some important justificatory and explanatory implications for what individuals and groups ought or ought not to do – as well as what we ought and ought not to do to individuals and groups being regulated – during times of emergency. Different regulatory responses to emergency circumstances may yield a different set of morally optimal outcomes, and risk regulation can benefit from a greater understanding of how normative uncertainty contributes to why normative standards can change in times of emergency, and how this possibility affects...

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